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'We Hoped to be Home by Diwali, It's New Year Now': Stranded Indians at China Port on 'Forced' Isolation

Stranded Indians at China port claims forced isolation

Stranded Indians at China port claims forced isolation

During this ‘forced’ isolation, Gaurav realised that nearly 1500 other sailors also stranded like them in Chinese waters on 74 other ships. Anxiety and depression are building up among the sailors who are desperate to return home.

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Suhas Munshi

It was back in April 2020 when 29-year-old second officer Gaurav Singh, from Pune, and his 18-member crew (out of which 16 were Indians) were to disembark from their ship ‘Anastasia’ at a port in China and come home. Their departure was delayed week after week, at first due to the breakout of Covid-19 and then for reasons that were unclear to them.

During this ‘forced’ isolation, Gaurav realised that nearly 1500 other sailors stranded like them in Chinese waters on 74 other ships.

Recently one of the stranded sailors slashed his wrists in a suicide bid. Anxiety and depression are building up among the sailors who are getting increasingly desperate to return home, says Gaurav in conversation with News18 over phone from his ship ‘Anastasia’.

How is the situation like there at the moment?

The situation is quite bad. For the past five months we have been at the same spot. Despite our pleas for rescue, no official or diplomat has got in touch with us. We don’t still know why we are being kept here and for how long we will continue to remain here.

Getting medical assistance is also becoming increasingly difficult. There are people who have developed skin infections, those who are now unable to get up from their beds, but we have been told that we will get medical attention only in case of emergencies.

We have already been in the sea for the past 18 months. The morale among people is really down. People are feeling quite hopeless. Nobody laughs or smiles anymore. ‘Hum sab yahan zinda lash ki tarah hain’ (We all are like living corpses).

How long have people been stuck here? When were you supposed to reach home?

My contract was for 6 months and I joined in November ‘19. The labour working here had a contract for 9 months, and they came to the ship in June 2019.

We left Australia on 20 June carrying coal for China. On August 3 2020, we reached China. Upon reaching we were told that there is lot of congestion, that after one week we would go to port, offload the cargo and go home. Then we were told to stay on for another week.

After one and a half months we read an article somewhere that said there was some trade issue between China and Australia. Then we read China has completely banned import of coal from Australia.

At first we thought we will reach our homes by Diwali, then we thought we would be together on Christmas. Today is New Year’s Eve and we are still here, stuck at the same spot. For the past one and a half years we haven't even seen the land.

How many are stuck there?

As far as we know there are around 1500 sailors on 74 ships, most of them are Indians. There are people here who have been on sea for the past 20 months, having no Internet access. I can’t even imagine how they are coping.

Have you tried reaching out for help?

We have tried to contact marine organisations and unions, the governments of India, China and Australia, but nobody so far has been able to help us in any way. Some people here believe that they will never be able to see their families again. One person tried to kill himself by slashing his wrists. Another sailor’s mother died. He tried everything but he wasn’t allowed to participate in her last rites.


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